Just in case you had any modicum of hope that Congress would deal with some of the profound challenges facing the country this year – from unemployment and the deficit to taxes and defense budget cuts – hope no longer.
Today, Politico reports that while it's only February, Congress is ready to pack it in for the year. According to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the chances that Congress will deal with important issues between now and November is "Zero. If you're looking for a positive spin on this, I don't have one to give you."
I wish I could say I am surprised or disappointed, but in a Congress in which dysfunction, partisan gridlock, and inaction have become the norm, this report is just another sign that Washington is broken.
Here's a snapshot of the enormity of the challenges ahead: At the start of 2013, 160 million Americans will face a 2-percentage-point increase in their Social Security payroll taxes, jobless benefits will once again be set to expire, Bush tax cuts will expire for all income levels and on capital gains and dividends, and doctors who treat Medicare patients will be threatened with a 27 percent cut in their payments.
What's worse is that lawmakers don't believe there is any chance Congress will rise to address these core challenges. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) said, “They had a better opportunity last year, and it wasn’t used. This year everybody agrees is more difficult, so I assume not a lot is going to get done.”
No one, it seems, has high expectations for this year. Instead, short-term politics and the 2012 election will triumph. Democrats and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will not move foward with a budget blueprint this year because there's little incentive to pursue controversial bills that could harm President Obama or fellow Democrats' reelection changes. Just the same, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will be careful to avoid showdowns that could jeopardize their chances of defeating Democrats.
It's prisoner's dilemma 101 in Washington, and it's absolutely maddening for taxpayers. That Congress feels the best way to win this election is inaction, rather than legislating, is a damning and frustrating reflection on the state of affairs of national politics.
What's clear is that this election will have enormous implications for our future. If one party is able to sweep both chambers and the presidency, it will have the backing to legislate starting in 2013. If Democrats and Republicans split the election, don't expect any less dysfunction in Washington soon.
See No Labels' Make Congress Work! plan to change the rules and fix what's broken in Washington:
Photo Credit: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff